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. “His mother knows he’s out, sir,” Mr. Foker remarked : “ don’t she, Pendennis ? ”
“But that does not prove that he had not better come home with me,” the Doctor growled, and he walked off with great dignity.
“Old boy don’t like the weed, I suppose,” Foker said. “Ha! who’s here ?—here’s the General, and Bingley, the manager. How do, Cos ? How do, Bingley ? ”
“How does my worthy and gallant young Foker?” said the gentleman addressed as the General; and who wore a. shabby military cape with a mangy collar, and a hat cocked very much over one eye.
“Trust you are very well, my very dear sir,” said the other gentleman, “and that the Theatre Royal will have the honour of your patronage to-night. We perform ‘The Stranger,’ in which your humble servant will——”
“ Can’t stand you in tights and Hessians, Bingley,” young Mr. Foker said. On which the General, with the Irish accent, said, “ But I think ye’ll like Miss Fotheringay, in Mrs. Haller, or me name’s not Jack Costigan.” .
Pen looked at these individuals with the greatest interest. He had never seen an actor before; and he saw Dr. Portman’s red face looking over the Doctor’s shoulder, as he retreated from the Cathedral Yard, evidently quite dissatisfied with the acquaintances into whose hands Pen had fallen.
Perhaps it would have been much better for him had he taken the parson’s advice and company home. But which of us knows his fate ? ‘
AVING returned to the George, Mr. Foker and his guest sate down to a handsome repast in the coffee-room; where Mr. Rummer brought in the first dish, and bowed as gravely as if he was waiting upon the Lord-Lieutenant of the county. Pen could not but respect Foker’s connoisseurship as he pro
to be condemned gigs; berryLaIgI winked at the pbIt with one eye. The latter he declared to be of the right sort ; and told the waiters, there was no way of humbugging him. All these attendants he knew by their Christian names, and showed a great interest in their ‘families ; and as the London coaches drove up, which in those early days used to set off from the George, Mr. Foker flung the coffee-room window open, and called the guards and coachmen by their Christian names, too, asking about their respective families, and imitating with great liveliness and accuracy the tooting of the horns as J em the ostler whipped the horses’ cloths off, and the carriages drove gaily away.
"\ nounced the champagne ‘ “ A bottle of sherry, a bottle of sham, a bottle of port and a shass cafly, it ain’t so bad, hay, Pen?” Foker said, and pronounced, after all these delicacies and a quantity of nuts and fruit had been despatched, that it was time to “toddle.” Pen sprang up with very bright eyes, and a flushed face; and they moved ofi towards the theatre, where they paid their money to the wheezy old lady slumbering in the money-taker’s box. “Mrs. Dropsicum, Bingley’s mother-in-law, great in Lady Macbeth,” Foker said to his companion. Foker knew her, too.
They had almost their choice of places in the boxes of the theatre, which was no better filled than country theatres usually are in spite of the “ universal burst of attraction and galvanic thrills of delight” advertised by Bingley in the playbills. A score or so of people dotted the pit-benches, a few more kept a kicking and whistling in the galleries, and a, dozen others, who came in with free admissions, were in the boxes where our young gentlemen sate. Lieutenants Rodgers and Podgers, and young Cornet Tidmus, of the dragoons, occupied a private box. The performers acted to them, and these gentlemen seemed to hold conversations with the players when not engaged in the dialogue, and applauded them by name loudly.
Bingley, the manager, who assumed all the chief tragic and comic parts except when he modestly retreated to make way for the London stars, who came down occasionally to Chatteris, was great in the character of the Stranger. He was attired in the tight pantaloons and Hessian boots which the stage legend has given to that injured man, with aglarge, cloak and beaver and a hearse-feather in ‘it drooping over
‘his raddled old face, and only partially concealing his great
buckled brown wig. He had the stage-jewellery- on too, of which he selected the largest and most shiny rings for himself, and allowed his little finger to quiver out of his cloak with a. sham diamond ring covering the first joint of the finger and twiddling in the faces of the pit. Bingley made it a favour to the young men of his company to go on in light comedy parts with that ring. They flattered him by asking its history. The stage has its traditional jewels, as the Crown and all
great families have. This had belonged to George Frederick Cooke, who had had it from Mr. Quin, who may have bought it for a shilling. Bingley fancied the world was fascinated with its glitter.
He was reading out of the stage-book—that wonderful stage-book—Which is not bound like any other book in the world, but is rouged and tawdry like the hero or heroine who holds it; and who holds it as people never do hold books: and points with his finger to a passage, and wags his head ominously at the audience, and then lifts up eyes and finger to the ceiling, professing to derive some intense consolation from the work between which and heaven there is a strong affinity.
As soon as the Stranger saw the young men, he acted aD them; eyeing them solemnly over his gilt volume as he lay on the stage-bank showing his hand, his ring, and his Hessians. He calculated the effect that every one of these ornaments would produce upon his victims: he was determined to fascinate them, for he knew they had paid their money; and he saw their families coming in from the country and filling the cane chairs in his boxes.
As he lay on the bank reading, his servant, Francis, made remarks upon his master.
“Again reading,” said Francis, “thus it is, from morn to night. To him nature has no beauty—life no charm. For three years I have never seen him smile” (the gloom of Bingley’s face was fearful to witness during these comments of the faithful domestic). “ Nothing diverts him. Oh, if he would but attach himself to any living thing, were it an animal—for something man must love.”
[Enter Tobias (Goll) from the hut] He cries, “ Oh, how refreshing, after seven long weeks, to feel these warm sunbeams once again. Thanks, bounteous Heaven, for the joy I taste ! ” He presses his cap between his hands, looks up and prays. The Stranger eyes him attentively.
Francis to the Stranger. “ This old man’s share of earthly happiness can be but little. Yet mark how grateful he is for his portion of it.”
Bingley. “Because, though old, he is but a child in the
leading-string of Hope.” (He looks steadily at Foker, who, however, continues to suck the top of his stick in an unconcerned manner.)
Francis. “ Hope is the nurse of life.”
Bingley. “ And her cradle—is the grave.”
The Stranger uttered this with the moan of a bassoon in agony, and fixed his glance on Pendennis so steadily, that the poor lad was quite put out of countenance. He thought the whole house must be looking at him ; and cast his eyes down. As soon as ever he raised them Bingley’s were at him again. All through the scene the manager played at him. How relieved the lad was when the scene ended, and Foker, tapping with his cane, cried out “Bravo, Bingley ! ”
“Give him a hand, Pendennis; you know every chap likes a hand,” Mr. Foker said; and the good-natured young gentleman, and Pendennis laughing, and the dragoons in the opposite box, began clapping hands to the best of their power.
A chamber in Wintersen Castle closed over Tobias’s hut and the Stranger and his boots; and servants appeared bustling about with chairs and tables—“That’s Hicks and Miss Thackthwaite,” whispered Foker. “Pretty girl, ain’t she, Pendennis ? But stop—hurray—bravo ! here’s , the Fotheringay.”
The pit thrilled and thumped its umbrellas; a volley of applause was fired from the gallery: the dragoon officers and Foker clapped their hands furiously : you would have thought the house was full, so loud were their plaudits. The red face and ragged whiskers of Mr. Costigan were seen peering from the side-scene. Pen’s eyes opened wide and bright, as Mrs. Haller entered with a downcast look, then rallying at the sound of the applause, swept the house with a grateful glance, and, folding her hands across her breast, sank down in a magnificent curtsey. More applause, more umbrellas; Pen this time, flaming with wine and enthusiasm, clapped hands and sang “Bravo” louder than all. Mrs. Haller saw him, and everybody else, and old Mr. Bows, the little first fiddler of the orchestra (which was this night increased by a detachment of the band of the dragoons, by the kind permission of